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On The Bombing Of Markets

Forget about the brokers in Shanghai.

On Sunday the 16th of August the market in Douma, an outer suburb of Damascus, was bombed. The news was first reported by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in a series of escalating bulletins until it finally arrived at the headline “more than 330 civilians killed and wounded in the genocide committed by the regime warplanes in Duma”.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

The “international community”, as the West and its satellites are fond of calling themselves, was quick to voice its outrage, as it has been throughout its five year campaign for Syrian regime change.

The UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien (ex-Cambridge, ex-Conservative MP), said he was “particularly appalled” at this “unlawful, unacceptable” targeting of non-combatants. The US State Department formally “condemns, in the strongest terms, the recent deadly airstrikes… on a market in the Damascus suburb of Douma that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds, including innocent women and children.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said: “This latest tragedy is just another reminder of the inhumane acts perpetrated daily by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.  The regime is responsible for killing thousands of innocent Syrian civilians and destroying entire towns and cities, historical sites, schools, mosques, markets, and hospitals.  These abhorrent actions underscore that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy and that the international community must do more to enable a genuine political transition.”

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, the “airstrikes, following its other recent market bombings and attacks on medical facilities, demonstrate the regime’s disregard for human life. As we have said, Assad has no legitimacy to lead the Syrian people. The United States is working with our partners toward a genuine, negotiated political transition away from Assad that brings an end to such attacks and leads to a future that fulfils Syrians’ aspirations for freedom and dignity.”

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, inevitably chipped in. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ex-Harrow, ex-Cambridge, son of Jock Colville, undisclosed relationship with the Foreign Office, wink wink), whose office has maintained since 2012 that they have “enough evidence of war crimes to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court”, was equally keen to voice his concern over “the outrageous bombing of a busy local marketplace.”

And so on, and so on.

Then the Douma Co-ordinating Committee, one of a network of committees set up on or before 2011, and funded by the US State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, released a list of the dead (although it requires translation). It has 102 names on it. Ninety nine of them are men. Does that sound like a normal gender spread for an Arabic market? The Syrian government maintain they actually targeted a rebel HQ near the market. Given the fatalities, and Douma’s long-standing status as a rebel bastion, doesn’t that sound more plausible than the idea Assad’s air force are targeting Sunday markets?

For those keen to pore over pictures of this and other bombed markets, and ponder the damage and corpses therein, or lack therof, Eric Draitser has a compendium of links in this very relevant article. Draitser is of the opinion that the extant footage from Douma is far less gruesome than might be expected. What makes things murkier still is that soon afterwards all the bodies were buried in mass graves, so no identification or inquest is possible.What footage we do have reveals no sign at all of how the men were killed. They’re wrapped in blankets, and most do seem to be of fighting age. Draitser even speculates they might just as easily have been brought in from fighting elsewhere. Unsurprisingly it turns out that at least one of the Douma market victims miraculously survived.

Get into character Mohammad: you've just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

Mohammad has just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

In 2013 Douma was also the scene of another alleged war crime: a chemical weapons attack, one of several such attacks across Syria, attacks which were extensively recorded and reported. However, as with the market bombing, I’m not quite sure the evidence for these stacks up either (the UN feels the same way, so does Stratfor, and so does Gareth Porter, to name but a very few, while Mossad, the JIC and The Sun thought otherwise).

The story reminded me that despite the fact markets have no military value, they’re bombed all the time. Sometimes we presume it is simply an accident, like when the RAF bombed the market at Fallujah, killing between 50 people (the MoD’s figure, when they eventually admitted responsibility) and 200.  But in almost every case, with the exception of four or five relatively minor incidents in Israel, whenever markets have been bombed over the last twenty years or so, the victims have been Muslim (I have started to compile a spreadsheet). These bombings occur with incredible frequency, and an astonishing number of them are never claimed by any terrorist group. Isn’t that bizarre? It suggests a strategy of tension, or perhaps several of them. Certainly it warrants further study.

Most of all, the reports from Douma reminded me of the market bombings in Sarajevo, or the Markale massacres, as they are sometimes known. The market in Sarajevo was bombed three times: once in 1992, once in 1994, and again in 1995. Or perhaps more accurately, it was hit by 120mm mortar shells. On each occasion there was ambiguity about whether the Serbs were actually responsible. General Michael Rose believed the shells actually came from the Bosnian side. Multiple sources (such as Michael Rose, David Owen, Boutros Boutros Ghali, President Mitterand, and Yasushi Akashi, the UN Special Envoy for Bosnia) refer to a secret UN investigation which found exactly that. A second, non-secret UN report (the one intended for publication) confined itself to saying the attack could not be confidently attributed to any particular faction.

I have visited the market in Sarajevo. An arc of attack was not apparent. Sightlines were few and very narrow. It would take exceptional skill, I think, to accurately and reliably hit it with the groupings and timings we are asked to believe in. I do not seek to exonerate the Bosnian Serbs, who seem to have sniped and shelled Sarajevo at will, but the mortar attacks in question reveal what you might call a tradition of unattributed, misreported, propagandistic attacks on Muslim markets. And the CIA and the Saudi-funded Islamists were present then just as they are today.

Sarajevo market bombed. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

The bombing of Sarajevo market. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

In memoriam.

 

 

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  1. Robert, good piece here, especially the background. Draister’s piece was a great ice-breaker for a world that’s been “silent about Douma” (the details anyway…). But I and some others have been looking into this deeper, still ongoing and getting better, here: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2015/08/douma-market-attack-masterlist.html (and also at the ACLOS link in my name).

    My concern from the start was these weren’t rebel fighters either, but kidnapped men and boys. That’s been borne out so far, deserves mention. I see theories it’s all fighters get aired, and critics of the regime change campaign just hoot at the dead rebels and move on. (fuller comparison list, in progress, 122 listed victims, still almost all men and boys (5 listed as boys, more like 12+ by pics and lists, including at least 2 boys listed as men, and 4 girls as well as 3 women, so unclear but about 100 men). Some men and boys have burned faces, while the girls and a young boy were killed differently, with head wounds but not by shelling. One boy appears drawn-and-quartered (pulled apart by terrorists). And the latest (in progress) analysis suggests 40+ men and boys at least were already dead before the rockets hit. http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2015/09/douma-market-attack-victims-dead-before.html So, it looks like whatever happened at the markets (they say 3 were hit, and the smoke plume mapping seems to support that), it was inflated at least with a bunch of people killed other ways in this Islamist rebel-held area.

    Thanks,
    Adam

  2. Robert, I should have tipped you to this earlier, and asked what you think. One-month investigation review: http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2015/09/doma-market-attack-one-month.html
    As mentioned there, expanded here (citing you):
    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Douma_Market_Attack,_August_2015#Arc_of_Attack.3F
    There is an apparent arc of attack in this case pointing one way. I’m not sure who’s based 800 meters south of the stricken markets, but I doubt it’s a regime fighter jet.

  3. Markets. Ukraine Government has shelled the markets of nearly every small community in Donbas, and even the suburbs of the larger cities. They did this relentlessly during the spring, summer, and fall of last year.

    Markets are very social places, people gather frequently in weather permitting to have small talk with their fellow locals, even if they don’t buy anything. It’s community which is nearly lost in USA where I’m from and probably mostly in UK and Europe also.

    I don’t remember how I found your blog, but you are savvy smart and write very well. Glad I found it and will share it with some friends who are like minded.
    Keep up the good fight and thank you :)